The race to save Yaquina Head

Story by Lindsay Brandt, Yaquina Head Education Technician

Since the lighthouse was built in 1871, Yaquina Head has been a landmark and navigational beacon. But it wasn’t always protected by public land. When a nearby quarry threatened the lighthouse and the very rock it stood on, two local women banded together to preserve the outstanding natural area for future generations.

A young Marguerite her in stroller, her mother, and her siblings on the steps of the lighthouse.
Marguerite (in stroller) and her siblings on the steps
of the lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Kay Butler.

Marguerite was born at Yaquina Head while her father, Fred Booth, was Second Assistant Lighthouse Keeper. In an oral history from 1990, Marguerite shared memories of spending her early childhood around the lighthouse. She played with her siblings and had pet rabbits and chickens. She remembers eating shellfish and weathering storms so strong they hurled ocean spray onto her family’s house next to the lighthouse.

Marguerite’s family left the lighthouse when she was very young, but she was assured that she would always be able to come back and visit.

“My father said: you will always be able to come down and see where you were born, because it will always be here," said Marguerite. "My dad said the cape and lighthouse would always be here.”

In the 1950s, she brought her husband and young daughter back to Yaquina Head. As they climbed the lighthouse stairs, she thought about her father climbing those same stairs to tend the light day after day so many years ago.

But the next time she returned, she found that parts of the headland were being quarried for basalt rock. Things were no longer as she remembered them:

“We were just shocked! The road looked like an earthquake had hit it -- it looked terrible. And they were going clear up to the lighthouse. I told Arthur, ‘I’m sure glad my father is not here to see this.’”

A grown up Marguerite at the top of the lighthouse as an adult. Her hand rests on the handrail and the lighthouse light is to her left.
Marguerite at the top of the lighthouse as an
adult. Photo courtesy of Kay Butler

Marguerite wrote a letter to a nearby newspaper. Through her letter, she connected with another woman who wanted to preserve the headland: Penelope Hull.

Penelope Hull was a resident of nearby Agate Beach, and she too had noticed big changes at the headland. The changes happened gradually. In 1990, Penelope said, “It was when we would come home from a winter vacation of several weeks that I realized that Yaquina Head was going down, becoming smaller and smaller.”

Penelope recruited Marguerite to help her fight for the future of the headland. They, along with many others who cared about Yaquina Head, worked to shift public opinion. They testified, wrote letters, and gradually brought others over to their way of thinking.

Their determination paid off when Congress designated Yaquina Head as an Outstanding Natural Area on March 5, 1980.

Today, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Interpretive Center sits on the site of the former quarry. The center and the rangers who work there share the stories of the keepers and their families, as well as the wildlife and scenery that make Yaquina Head outstanding. Quarry Cove, part of the former quarry, is now an amazing place to observe wildlife like seals, seabirds, and whales.

Under the care of the BLM, the work to preserve and restore the lighthouse and the headland never stops! People who care about this place can come back year after year, generation after generation.

This Women's History Month, we’re proud to honor the legacy of the women who sparked the movement to save Yaquina Head!

This story was made possible thanks to two oral histories from Penelope Hull and Marguerite (Booth) Canterbury.

The Yaquina Head headland jutting out into the sea with the Yaquina Lighthouse on top. The sun is setting and the light is a deep blue.
Sunset descends upon the Oregon Coast at Yaquina Head, June 9, 2018. Alyssa Uhen, BLM.

Lindsay Brandt, Yaquina Head Education Technician

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